What exactly is the Dell XPS10? On the one hand, it’s a standalone Windows RT tablet going up against Microsoft’s Surface, Google’s Nexus 10 and Apple’s iPad 4 at £407 for the 32GB model. On the other hand, it’s a convertible netbook, selling from £551 (32GB) with a keyboard dock, and pitched at the same market as the Asus Transformer Infinity and VivoTab RT or the Acer Iconia W510. The question is whether Dell has produced a tablet that works in both configurations, or one that feels hamstrung without its dock.
After the skateboard-ready body and innovative covers of Microsoft’s Surface, or the versatile, bending over backwards design of Lenovo’s IdeaPad Yoga 11, there’s something a bit everyday about the XPS 10. It’s a fairly straightforward Windows RT tablet enhanced by some nice materials and Dell’s usual slick XPS styling, but there’s nothing to set the hare racing.
Still, if the design is a bit conservative – you might struggle to tell the XPS 10 apart from a crowd of Android tablets – the combination of gorilla glass, chrome edging and matt-black rubberised plastic back grows on you.Of course, the thick bezel and 635g weight leave it feeling a bit heavier and chunkier than Acer’s Iconia W510 - it’s not an easy tablet to hold one-handed - but the rubberised back is good to grip and the tablet feels well-balanced in both hands. It also feels very tough; tougher than the Iconia W510 and on a par with the Surface or IdeaPad. There’s barely any flex in the tablet whatsoever, and everything fits together very snugly.
Add the keyboard dock, and we have a device that comes somewhere between a premium netbook and miniature laptop. At first, I struggled to get the XPS 10 into the hinge assembly on the keyboard dock, but then I spotted the note suggesting that I remove two covers on the bottom of the tablet first. With this done the XPS 10 clicks very neatly into place, to the extent that it would be hard to tell that this was not a more conventional netbook. The hinge does a great job of supporting the tablet and there’s not much play in the mechanism.
At 1.3kg, there’s enough weight in the docking unit to balance the tablet on a desk, and it all feels extremely robust, while removing tablet from dock is as easy as sliding a catch and pulling out. This isn’t as stylish a convertible as the Vivo Tab RT or Transformer, but the design works well, and it’s easy to imagine business users liking the more familiar look and feel.
As a tablet, there’s not a lot to fault the XPS 10 with in terms of ease-of-use. The touchscreen is very responsive, and Windows 8’s modern UI and onscreen keyboard work as well here as they do on any other Windows 8 tablet. As a convertible, the news isn’t quite so good. Much as I like the slightly wedge-shaped profile and the lack of flex beneath the island-style keyboard, there’s something light and insipid about the action of the keys. Meanwhile, the left shift key is the same size as the \ key next door and the cursor keys are tiny. The trackpad has plenty of horizontal space but much less vertical room to manoeuvre, and while typing in Word I found it hard to avoid contact with it, sending the cursor to some random line of my document. This is one area where rivals have a distinct advantage.
Screen and sound
Don’t expect any surprises when it comes to the screen; this is another Windows RT tablet with a 10.1in, 1,366 x 768 resolution display. While this means it can’t match the pin-sharp definition of the Retina iPads or the Google Nexus 10, images and text still look crisp, viewing angles are perfectly adequate and levels of brightness and contrast are actually very good. This is a fine screen for sharing photos or watching films, though in direct sunlight the gloss surface throws up so many reflections that it can be a challenge to make much out.
The output from the bottom-firing stereo speakers is a mixed bag. The XPS 10 goes louder than you might expect, but the tone is predictably thin and clarity gets worse as the volume goes up. If you want to get the most from a game or movie, don some headphones.
Though Dell sells the XPS 10 in both tablet-only and convertible formats, connectivity on the tablet itself is fairly basic, with just a micro-USB port and a micro SD-card slot hidden beneath another cover. There is an adaptor available that converts the 40-pin docking and charging socket into HDMI and USB connections, but this comes in at a whacking £32.49. This is a shame if you buy the tablet in its solo configuration, but adding the dock soon sorts things out. With a mini-HDMI output and two full-sized USB ports, this configuration is a lot more versatile, and Windows RT’s USB device support is still much more impressive than you’ll find on iOS or Android.
With a 2-megapixel front camera the XPS 10 is well-equipped for Skype video calls, providing the lighting is fairly bright. In less bright conditions there’s a fair bit of noise in the image, though I'm finding the same with most 720p front-facers. The rear camera has five megapixels, which seems a sensible number for something that won’t be used for any real photography. Image quality is just about adequate, but let down by dull colours and a lack of sharp contrast.
The XPS 10 presents a near-vanilla installation of Windows RT. I’m torn over the ARM variant of Microsoft’s new OS. On the one hand, it can be hard to see the point of a version of Windows that cuts you off from legacy apps, particularly when the Windows app store lacks the breadth and quality of its Google and Apple rivals. On the other hand, with Office 2013 Preview pre-installed and a pretty solid set of core applications, Windows RT comes ready to browse, check your social networks and get some proper work done, and when the XPS 10 is in tablet form those legacy apps wouldn’t work all that well anyway.
What’s more, Windows 8 is a good-looking, efficient OS – every time I go back to Android after using a Windows 8 or Windows RT tablet, I miss the simple swiping gestures and those ever-informative tiles. The Windows 8 Pro-powered Iconia W510 has the edge here, simply because you get all that’s good about Windows RT plus legacy app support and more. It’s no fault of Dell, but Microsoft still needs to convince me that Windows RT is a good choice for the future. Though the content on the app store is improving, RT still needs more apps, better apps and bigger names to come.
Every Windows RT tablet I’ve seen so far has used Nvidia’s Tegra 3 chipset, but the XPS 10 deviates by opting for a Snapdragon S4. I’m not entirely sure this was a good move. While the XPS 10 feels fairly slick in general operation, there seem to be more pauses while waiting for things to happen, and old problems, like the Word cursor struggling to keep up with typing, haven’t disappeared. Graphically-rich games like Hydro Thunder Hurricane stutter slightly as they run, and a SunSpider score of 1583.3ms puts the XPS 10 behind Tegra 3 powered tablets in browser benchmarks too. If you want the fastest Windows 8 tablets for games or rich web apps, this isn’t it, though it will run HD video perfectly smoothly.
I also noted more RT glitches than I’ve seen on Tegra-powered rivals. Twice my sample froze, once while booting and once while browsing a website, requiring a physical shutdown. I also had one weird episode where the tablet seemed convinced that a corner of the screen was being tapped repeatedly. I’ll charitably assume these were isolated incidences, but they gave me a little concern.
Undocked, the XPS 10 delivers approximately seven hours of mixed browsing, movie streaming, light Office work and gaming from a single charge. This comes as a bit of a disappointment after the Asus Vivo Tab RT and Iconia W510, both of which hit nearer the ten hour mark. Things improve with the dock attached, with the battery life nearly doubling to 12 to 14 hours.
As a standalone tablet, the XPS 10 doesn’t do a bad job. It’s well-built, feels good in the hand and has a decent screen. Unfortunately, it comes behind Windows RT, iOS and Android rivals on performance, connectivity and battery life, and does nothing to claw ahead of Microsoft’s Surface models at the same price points.
Add the keyboard dock and the XPS 10 looks a better buy. Battery life and connectivity improve dramatically, and the XPS 10 becomes a versatile and functional convertible netbook, even if it hasn’t got the best keyboard. The problem is that it’s still quite expensive. At £629 for the 64GB model it’s more expensive than the Acer Iconia W510 or Asus Vivo Tab RT, not to mention the Surface RT if you don’t mind the Touch Cover. Given the strengths of the Windows RT competition – let alone the Android and iOS competition - it’s hard to see where the XPS 10 brings any real advantage.
Manufacturer and model
Dell XPS 10
1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4
Memory (flash storage)
microSD memory card
10.1in 1,366 x 768
Micro-USB, headphone, HDMI via adaptor on tablet. 2 x USB 2.0 and mini HDMI on dock
28Whr 2 Cell Lithium-Ion
Size and weight
177.3 x 274.7 x 9.2mm, 635g